The rapper looks back on Lethal Injection and the year that saw him become a pop star
Taken from the August issue of Dazed & Confused:
When the Isley Brothers-sampling “It Was a Good Day” single dropped on February 23, 1993, it cemented Ice Cube’s reputation as the leading west-coast lyricist of his era. He followed the classic slow jam with July’s equally massive “Check Yo Self” remix and then, in December, his fourth solo album, Lethal Injection, which included “Bop Gun”, a homage to G-funk godfather George Clinton. From Watts to High Wycombe, Cube’s LA street poetry had the world hooked.
“1993 was the year I pretty much became a pop star. I was definitely in a new territory, working on films and having number one records. I was exposed to a whole new audience who were ready for my picture of reality. The year before, I went on the Lollapalooza tour. I was the only hip hop artist out there. I didn’t know if I was gonna be accepted because grunge was so big. I was like, ‘Damn! White people got their own hardcore!’ Metal was hardcore but real theatrical. Grunge shit was on a different level. I realised that my shit was the lternative to the alternative. The first show was scary, but when I knew I had the crowd I had fun and tried to give them the best experience because it might be the only time they got to see me.
The G-funk era had come in and I felt like pop culture had decided that there was too much music about black struggle. With Clinton in the White House it didn’t fit, and mainstream pop culture had shifted not just mainstream culture but rap: partying, smoking, drinking, clubbing, jewellery, cars, clothes, women, strippers, money. Black political issues weren’t getting attention but I decided to highlight them on Lethal Injection. Those records are real political statements, especially ‘Lil Ass Gee’ and ‘Ghetto Bird’. I wanted it to be how I felt and I wanted people to know how I feel. You gotta have thick skin to survive that.
Some songs from that period have stood the test of time, some haven’t. When I hit, I hit big. When I miss, it’s nowhere near. As an artist looking back, you are always critical. If you’re a true artist you’re always looking back to be better
At its core it’s the old tradition of storytelling that goes back way before rap, when people used stories and songs and dance and other forms of expression to document the oral history of their people. This was the same shit. When I wrote things like ‘my wealth is shorter than a midget on its knees’ (‘What Can I Do?’), it fed back into a mechanism that black and poor people have used for centuries. If you don’t laugh your ass is gonna cry, so the funniest things are said in the worst situations just to get through. If you really think about it, that shit is terrible. I did a movie called Friday (1995) and people laughed and loved it, but it’s about a fucking drug dealer who wants to kill a kid. Terrible shit.
My previous record, The Predator, was inspired by the LA riots. I still think that the best thing that came out of those riots was the gang truce. There’s Crips and Bloods that work together to this day because of it. I know it fell apart in other parts, but today there’s a generation of gangs who aren’t killing each other, which has to be a good thing.
Some songs from that period have stood the test of time, some haven’t. When I hit, I hit big. When I miss, it’s nowhere near. As an artist looking back, you are always critical. If you’re a true artist you’re always looking back to be better. I’m the same dude doing different things that interest me. I’m not caught on one thing. I’m more than a rapper; I’m more than an actor. I’m like, ‘Yo, let’s put out some new shit!’”